Three Important Questions
"Do partner and I have enough points for slam?"
"Do partner and I have eight or more cards in one of the major suits?"
"Where should we play this hand?"
In the last lesson, we noted that scoring games gave bonuses and helped your partnership toward winning the rubber. Therefore, if you and your partner’s cards are good enough to bid game, you should certainly TRY to. How do you know? Using clues from the bidding!
In the first lesson, we talked about counting the points in your hand. We’ll learn how to use different bids (second lesson) to tell partner about the number of points we hold. There are a LOT of ways. Partner will also be using bids to tell us about the number of points she holds (and something about what suits she likes and dislikes.) Thus, we’ll KNOW how many points WE hold, and will have a fairly good idea of how many points partner holds after some bidding.
Question #1: "Do partner and I have enough points for slam? Do we hold enough points for game?"
As a "rule of thumb," if the partnership holds a total of 37 points, they have enough high cards to bid a grand slam. [This is pretty rare.]
If the partnership holds a total of 33 points, they have enough high cards to bid a small slam. [This is still rare, but more common than grand slams.]
If you and partner hold a TOTAL of 29 points, then you both should make sure that a game contract is reached. What are the minimum game contracts? In No trump, 3N just makes game (100 points below the line.) In a major suit contract (either hearts or spades,) four of that suit scores game (120 points below the line.) In a minor suit contract (either clubs or diamonds,) five of that suit just scores game (100 points below the line.) Note that it takes eleven tricks to score a minor suit game, 10 tricks for a major suit game, and 9 tricks for a no trump game.
Because major suit games and no trump games require fewer tricks, they can usually be made with only 26 points total between the hands. Because the total is most often near this number, it is an important one to remember!
Question #2: "Do partner and I have eight or more cards in one of the major suits?"
If we hold at least 26 points total, we should try to find out if we have the cards in suits to play in either no trump or a major trump suit. [If we do not, then we can try to find out if we have a suit for a minor suit game.]
Usually, no trump contracts require that we can control all the suits (since we can’t trump a suit that opponents lead.) Playing the hand in trumps suits can be a little easier, if we have enough trumps between our two hands.
Eight cards means that we hold more than half of the trump cards. With 8 cards between us, the opponents have only five trumps, and we definitely have the advantage. If we hold seven of them, then we also hold more than half. But then the opponents would hold six of them, and we’d have only a slight advantage.
So, if we know by our bids that we hold 26 points and at least 8 hearts in the two hands, we should bid AT LEAST four hearts (game in hearts.) If we have learned that we hold 25 points and at least 8 hearts, we should probably stop before getting to 4♥ (probably 3♥.)
Question #3 is actually a combination of questions #1 and #2:
Question #3: "Where should we play this hand?"
"Where" means, at what level and in what strain.
We should always be trying to tell partner about how many points we have and should always be listening to partner’s bids to see how many she has. Once we have an idea, we should be able to estimate the total, and then decide "How High" we should be bidding. With enough for grand slam (37 total), we can bid to the 7-level. With enough for small slam (33 total), we can bid to the 6-level. With enough for game (29 points), we should end up in some kind of game. With 26 total, we should try to determine if we can play in game in a major suit or no trump. With less than 26 total points, we should NOT be bidding game [without a really good reason.]
With 26 points total, if we know that we hold eight major suit cards or more, we know the strain for the game. If we determine that we don’t hold eight cards in a major suit, but we can (hopefully) keep the opponents from taking at least one trick in every suit, we can try a no trump game. If we can’t prevent opponents from taking tricks in a suit (or even two,) we should probably not bid any game, even though we hold 26 points.
With less than 26 points, the important thing is to try to end the bidding as low as possible BUT, with a decent trump suit, IF POSSIBLE. As we will see, this may not always be possible, but it should be one of our goals.
We’ll be getting to telling our partner about our hand pretty soon. There’s just a couple more things that will be helpful before then. We’ll introduce planning ahead here, and a few more concepts in the next lesson. Understanding these will make bidding a little bit easier.
If you decide not to pass (make a bid,) you should try to think ahead. We’ll be helping you with this idea as we introduce various kinds of bidding. But what this means is that you should try to decide what you will bid if partner makes a low-level bid.
Thus, if you bid 1♣, you should already have planned what you will bid if partner bids either 1♦, or 1♥, or 1♠, or maybe even 1NT! MAYBE EVEN 2♣!! Partner is likely to bid one of these, so your planning won’t be worthless. On the few occasions that partner makes a different bid, YOUR second bid will be easier.
But sometimes that planning will make a difference between being able to tell your partner the MOST about your hand and telling your partner a bunch of "white lies."
To repeat this again, if you decide not to pass, try to anticipate what you will bid if partner makes a low-level response.